Prepare for hunting season now, the right gear awaits

Hunting season is closing in on us, are you prepared? If you're like me, you're thinking about hunting season all year, but it seems so far out...

Well, it's time to buy those last minute items you have been thinking about all year!

I found a little inspiration on the topic after reading a great short article in the Journal of Mountain Hunting by Steve Opat, Does your Rain Gear Need a Fighting Chance?

He's right in that "big ole' fat rain" can be a real pain, especially when it comes to a long hunt. When you're backpacking, sometimes you just can't get dry. So do yourself and your rain gear a favor, do what you can to guard against getting drenched.

I'll be brutally honest, I have been somewhat of a chicken when it comes to high dollar breathable rain gear. Following 25 years of hunting in the mountains of Alaska, I have finally made the leap from truly waterproof Helly Hansen Impertech to a modern set of breathable rain gear from Kryptek. I may be one of the last sheep hunters out there to make this change, but for good reason. Helly's Impertech is 100% waterproof, no doubt about it. It's durable too. You get used to the idea that you're wearing rubber and you minimize activity while it's raining. The last thing you need is to sweat wearing Impertech. 

So why switch now? Well, we all know you can't always sit still while sheep hunting in the rain. One of my last sheep hunts was case in point. We started the day's hunt under blue sky. It was supposed to take about 2 hours to reach the ram we were hunting. After being pinned down all morning by a stubborn single young ram, by the time we laid eyes on the group of mature rams, the sky was dark and the rain drops were falling. To top it off, the rams were 600 yards nearly vertically above us. Between making my way up the steep scree chutes and laying prone for what seemed like an hour, I was pretty darn wet! 

Beautiful double broomed dall ram in the rain

I appreciate Steve's comment that rain gear is more aptly referred to as “moisture management apparel”. It shields us from the weather, but no matter what brand you're wearing or how much you paid for it, the water will find a way in. 

In the case of my double broomed ram, I knew the risk of closing the distance on that day and I didn't care. I changed into my spare clothes before field dressing the ram, and all was fine. Sometimes though, we need to be pro-active. 

This year I'm taking a little different approach. I traded in my trusty Helly's for the Kryptek Koldo Jacket and Pant. I added an additional Kryptek Cadog jacket to my repertoire as well. While it was great for spring bear hunting, I'm not sure I'm going to hump it up the mountain. I may stick to my trusty, packable, warm down jacket for that extra warm layer. The Kryptek pattern is just flat bad ass, and the feel and fit of all the Kryptek gear is great. But I'm old school and I'm nervous as all get out going on a 10 day hunt with this fancy breathable stuff.

Fortunately, I'm not quite as ignorant as I sound. I know breathable fabrics well through my manufacturing experience, and I know they all have limitations. I don't care if you're wearing Gore, eVent, Toray, or standard PU coated gear. When drenched, the tiny pores will eventually start letting water seep in especially if your DWR has worn off. That's short for Durable Water Repellent, a quick wash that waterproof or water resistant garments go through before they get packaged. To avoid this inevitable reality of water leakage, we need to do two things. Keep the fabric clean, don't let any grease or sweat build up and clog the pores. FYI, Nikwax offers a few nice products to help clean your breathable gear as well as reapply that DWR finish after your gear gets worn in. Consumers don't know it, but many top outdoor gear manufacturers use standard Nikwax DWR finishes. 

The second thing we need to do is consider shelter options. Sometimes we get caught in the rain and there's not much we can do about it. Other times, we need to be smart and seek shelter. If you don't carry camp with you, consider carrying a lightweight tarp you can hunker under until the rain passes.

Aqua Quest tarp and trekking pole

This year I'm hedging my bet on the fancy breathable rain gear... I'm going to take a 10' x 7' breathable Aqua Quest tarp and a trekking pole along. Honestly I'm not always a fan of trekking poles, but they do work well for multiple purposes. Helping to keep my tush out of the rain this year will be hugely beneficial! While I'm not at all a fan of the extra couple pounds, I know staying dry makes all the difference between a great day on the mountain and the alternative.

This year actually brings a few new items to my hunting gear line-up now that I think about it. My trusty old Lowas just weren't going to make it up another mountain, so I went boot shopping this spring. So many options, so many choices. I chose to done the women's Kennetrek Mountain Extreme 400. I'll be honest though, I didn't buy them for their fancy website (it rather stinks). I opted to try them due to some great reviews by trusted friends. I added some nice inserts and so far so good hiking around this summer. I'm also adding a nice pair of Kennetrek gaiters that should work great to keep water and debris out!

Out with the Lowas in with the Kennetreks

Another tip I learned years ago was to have a closed cell foam pad along. If you can avoid sitting on wet rocks or in wet moss, your bum will stay dryer and you'll be much happier. Unlike the tough guys out there, I no longer use a closed cell foam sleeping pad. My bones and hips in particular much prefer my comfy Thermarest NeoAir! You could suffer, buy why? So what do I bring? I love my compact Ace Camp portable foam pad, it's a multi-use lifesaver on the mountain. Alternatively, you could sacrifice an old sleeping pad and cut it down as some friends have done.

closed cell foam pads used as a wind block

Yes, I take Crocs sheep hunting. And damn they're nice after a long day in the rocks!

I admit I love comfort in the field, and I don't skimp when it comes to staying warm, dry, and cooking meals fast. I've had great luck with my lightweight trusty Primus propane/butane stove, but I purchased a back up this year I might just take up the mountain. The Optimus Crux Lite. It doesn't have an ignitor, but it's compact, strong and throws some great flames. 

Lastly, I'll leave you with the decision to pick up one last item for your upcoming hunt... the SlingHook. At less than 1 oz, this simple little gadget has seriously changed the way I hike up a mountain. I've always been a fan of carrying my rifle so that it's immediately accessible when needed. My Barney's pack has a nice slot to safely carry my rifle on the side, but I never did feel comfortable in bear country using it. I use the SlingHook everywhere I go now and I'll tell you, it's been a true gem. It's there when I need to use both hands. It's smooth and releases my sling every time I need it to.

Well, enough out of me. I really need to wrap up a day's work here as the time before the hunt is winding down! So much to do, not enough time!

Get out there and have a great fall season!